Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Western Washington Swamp

If it were only a bit warmer, we might gators around here.  After incessant rain, grass is like mush, water is ponding and accumulating everywhere, landslides have started, the rivers are flooding, and the aroma of wetness is everywhere.

A typical scene in North Seattle

Western Washington is more like a swamp than a high-tech center, and much, more precipitation is coming.   A little over a month ago, some folks were talking about a progressive drought for our region.  The drought talk has ended.

Some amazing statistics were noted by my colleagues at the National Weather Service this morning (see below)---nearly every day this month has rained and a number of observing sites will break their all-time record for number of days with rain in January.  Quillayute, Hoquiam, and Olympia will all beat the record, Seattle may tie it.


And the rain totals have been extraordinary as well.  Quillayute, on the NW coast, has received 22.63 inches so far this month, 9.31 inches above normal.  Sodden Olympia has been wetted by 13.76 inches, 6.62 inches above normal.  Some monthly records will be broken along the coast and southwest Washington.

Rivers throughout the region are either flooding or soon to flood, as shown by the following graphic from the NWS Portland river forecast center.  Moderate flooding is expected for major rivers draining westward from the central and northern Cascades.


And much more is coming.  The latest infrared satellite picture shows a huge plume of moisture and clouds extended across the Pacific....this moisture is heading our way.


During the next 90 hours (through 4 AM Saturday), the European Center model shows heavy precipitation accumulating over the western slopes of the Cascades, Olympics and coastal mountains, with some places drenched by 3-6 inches.    Flooding will be widespread.
 But what is really scary, is the European Center ten-day total (below).  Just unbelievable, with some locations in the Olympics getting 10 inches of rain.


This month essential guarantees enough water to get through the summer, both through total precipitation and the substantial snowpack.  But the flooding will be serious and everyone should be careful about driving on flooded roads.   There will be road closures from slides...you can bet on it.

And yes, I know some critters that will be very happy during the next few weeks.







29 comments:

  1. And yet despite this largesse, the MSM is now in alarmist mode worrying about ...the diminishing lowland snowpack. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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  2. It's been wet around Bellingham but being north of the Olympics virtually guarantees that precip totals here will be nowhere near what they are to the south. This January has been the wettest month in more than 2 years of measurements in NW Bellingham and yet my rain gauge has picked up a relatively paltry 4.78" as of this comment. On a related note, Mount Baker Ski Area is on track for one of the snowiest months in its history with more than 280" so far and more on the way before things warm up on Friday. MBSA's monthly record snowfall is 303" in February 1999 (of course).

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    1. Thanks, Jonathan for your detailed weather updates from Bellingham. I used to live there and it has a very unique climate, especially in the winter months. Always of interest.

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    2. We get to see it all coming from Thornton hill in Ferndale when that Frasier wind rears its snarly head. Any decent chance of snow up here Sunday? If the wind turns we should be in luck.

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  3. Could you comment or add a follow up about the incessant winds?!? At least in Snohomish and Whatcom Counties, it seems to be windier than the windy normal the past few weeks.

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  4. I'd REALLY love it if you'd report variability stats (like standard deviations, whatever) besides averages and extremes. PS ooopooooh, SCARY rain in days ahead! Flooding rivers! I'd really prefer this blog leave hype to MSM. Those prediction graphs do the job for me, no further hype needed

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    1. If there was ever a reason for concern about flooding this would be the time to take it seriously. Anyone who could be affected by such conditions likely will to some degree. Each weather event has a severity scale and I think this qualifies as such- this likely has a potential to be a 9.9 out of 10... If Cliff says "scary", I think it deserves a high level of respect.

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  5. Wow. 10 inches of rain on top of snowpack. I hope not. That will cause huge floods.

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  6. "Let it rain for 40 days and 40 nights and wait for the sewers to back up."

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  7. Cliff you mention the substantial snowpack however apart from the brief Fraser outflow event snow levels have been unusually high. Each storm cycle seems have oscillating snow levels from 2-3000ft to 8000 feet at times resulting in rain on snow events. Around 5000ft in North Bend area the mountains peaks are bare with snow and it felt more like spring at this altitude this past weekend with many birds everywhere. Is winter over for 2020 in January? Snow levels on Thursday night predicted @ 7000ft but then a drop but for how long before its back up high again, not good for glacier accumulation but we already know this.

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    1. Are you serious? Snoqualmie Pass (3,022 ft), for the month of January, has had 14 feet of snow. That is the most January snow there since 2006.

      It has accumulated snow every day there since last Saturday. Tuesday it snowed a foot.

      Snow levels vary in the winter here and always have. To claim this January - of all years - to be an example of high snow levels is ridiculous. Wow.

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    2. January has been very wet, and there is a lot of snow at high elevations, but the mid-elevation snowpack is below average (in terms of depth/coverage from a skier's perspective, not necessarily in terms of SWE).

      I can think of at least several times this month when it has rained to the top of the ski areas around here. That consolidation is good for coverage, but it has undeniably been a warmer than average January with higher than normal snow levels.

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    3. Can you back that up with data?

      This January has seen the highest accumulation of snow at the ski areas in almost 15 years and that is through multiple data sources. Today was the first day in a week at Snoqualmie Pass (at pass level (ie 3,000 feet) per WSDOT) where there wasn't accumulated snow.

      In fact: of the 31 days in January, only 5 did not have accumulated snow. So for 26 days in January, the snow level was at 3,000 feet sometime during each day, including a streak between January 6th and January 19th (two weeks) where it snowed every day (at 3,000 feet) and they picked up almost 10 feet of snow.

      That was about when the Summit started to warn skiers of "deep snow conditions" and to be wary of tree wells.

      I will agree, today is one of those 5 days where the snow level is above 3,000 feet. Way above. But it is the anomaly; not the 26 days it snowed up there.

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    4. @Seldom Seen is spot on!

      @sunsnow12, i think you may be confusing 'snowfall' with 'snowpack depth/persistence' which is the question I was asking Dr Mass, specifically at mid-elevations. You are correct in that according to WSDOT data January was one of the highest in recent years for snow fall overall but after each storm cycle warm air moved in and snow levels moved up to ~8000ft with several inches of (pineapple express) rain falling on this new snow. This caused unprecedented wet avalanches as detailed by NWAC and spring snow conditions in January. I'm out in the mountains each weekend and there is a 6ft wooden sign at 3500ft at exit 38 off I-90 which is consistently buried in snow these past 8 years I have visited, one can always ski across it. Yesterday only the bottom few inches were covered, where is the other 5.8ft of snow pack base that is usually at this elevation each January? If we have received record breaking snow fall (164") at ~3300ft then the only explanation (for a lay person) is that it rapidly melted off due to very warm temperatures and heavy rainfall as the air temperatures oscillated between freezing and 8k as evidenced by the river flows and landslides. Dr Mass, it will be interesting to know if there is a correlation to predicted climate change with these events or natural variation. The advice for skiers appears to be "go high", so Baker, Whistler etc. will all do well as mid-elevation snowpack diminishes over time.

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  8. Scary? Really? I've been living in the NW most of my life, Prof. Mass, with an extended stay in SE Asia once upon a time, and lengthy sabbaticals in Europe/Mexico. But this rainy period doesn't strik me as scary, nor particularly amazing. We have wet winters on occasion. I'm rather enjoying it.

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    1. I agree. From my lifetime living in the northwest, this is certainly wet, but not that unusual. I think what is surprising that with all this moisture, snowpack is not more than 100% of normal. In spite of the cold spell in mid-January, average nighttime lows for SeaTac in January will still be about 3 degrees above normal following December where they were almost 5 degrees above normal. All of this points to warmer air and higher freezing levels.

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    2. Probably not particularly scary for you, as I take it you likely dont live in the vicinity of a river or flood plain. But for many folks who do I think it is very concerning considering the situation at hand.

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    3. Too bad municipal, county, state and federal 'planning' rules for building have, pretty much forever, allowed so much construction in floodplains, deserts and other known natural hazards. That enables developers & real estate agents to keep building & selling there, profitably. Buyers often have zero idea (inadequate due diligence, foolish optimism "can't happen to me") about where they've chosen to live/work. The ugly consequences are only going to become more devastating in years ahead. Genuine rational planning to truly manage risk will, I fear, always be trumped by wishful thinking, greed & ignorance by individuals and communities alike. Yup, it's scary when Ma Nature does one of her natural 'inconvenient' things, but we human children of Ma Nature might be better off if we paid more serious attention to her warnings.

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    4. Elitist much? Few people have much choice about where they live/work.

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  9. Too bad the frost broke my rain gauge!

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  10. According to the WA Department of Ecology, estimates of wetland loss in Washington range from 20 to 50 percent. Looks like we're getting some of them back. Perhaps it will convince the developers and pavers and wetland fill permit grantors to leave the remaining wetlands alone.

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  11. We'rein Wahkiakum Co. I just made the alligator joke to my husband yesterday morning... sprinkle a couple of rubber gators in amongst the reeds... Also, why do we not have moose? It seems the perfect habitat.

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  12. What's the read on the state of Eastern Washington showing up in the drought monitor?

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  13. I am exceedingly relieved to see Western Washington weather return as I had known it in my youth. I love it! As a youth, many of us celebrated the rain because it seemed to scare visitors away -- especially Californians. Today, of course, I welcome our new residents from California and hope they appreciate our swampy weather as I do

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  15. There's an impressive rain shadow over the north part of the Olympic peninsula and over to Everett right now.

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  16. If only all of this rain showed up as snow before the ski season started...that high snow level is killing me right now!

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  17. Chuckle . . . "A typical scene in North Seattle": Is that a shot of Foster's Island?

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